Your bookshops #12 Libreria Acqua Alta

There are certain bookshops that are surely on everyone's must-visit list, and by everyone, I even mean the non-readers. I was therefore thrilled – and jealous – when I realised the latest guest post by Small but Mighty Writer Jessica was about the place popularly known as the most beautiful bookshop in the world.

Libreria Acqua Alta
Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5176/B, 30122 Venezia, Italy
Phone: 039 041 296 0841
Published: 15th February, 2016

It was my first time visiting Venice and I was already overwhelmed by the variations of pasta and that it was the only place I’d visited which didn’t require a filter on Instagram. It was on the first evening, walking to a little pizzeria that I spotted what looked to be an antique shop tucked away in the street’s alcove - it was Libreria Acqua Alta. The building, like most in Venice had its own rustic charm but the doors were open and out spilled books, postcards, bookmarks, paintings and maps, to name a few. It was dusk when I went in but the shop was lit well enough to see thousands of books piled high, just as if they were dropped there one day with no other intention than to annoy someone with severe OCD.

There was no order to anything; there were maps which illustrated everywhere from the islands of Venice to a newly discovered fictional world; books which covered topics from horticulture to women’s fashion, and not to mention the hundreds of postcards which seemed to have been collected from a traveller’s adventures around the world.

The gentleman behind the counter recognised me as English straight away and was keen to point out the different areas of his shop. There were narrow doorways, leading to rooms filled with even more stacks of papers and hardbacks and at the very back of the shop, the door led out to a small walled courtyard. Built against the wall were books of all kinds, fixed together by what looked like mortar. The books had moulded to the shape of the hundreds of feet that had climbed them over the years and the sign above the books readily encouraged you to mould them further and climb to the top of the manmade stairs. If it had been light, you would have been able to see the narrow lane where the canal ran through, but I could only hear the ripple of water below. I could see pretty balconies along the buildings but the shop seemed to be livelier than the residents’ houses.

The shop was quite large but taking up most of the room was a full size gondola which sat in the centre. Complete with the striped mast, the gondola was filled with books. In fact, most of the shop’s inventory was stored in bathtubs and floatable containers, apparently in case the canal floods. This clever idea means if the shop should ever fill with water, the books will all be saved. It’s also worth mentioning the owner has a particular liking for stray cats so if you should visit, try not to jump if one of them appears whilst you’re browsing in the non-fiction section (FYI – there are no sections, it really is an OCD nightmare).

It may first appear the owner of Libreria Acqua Alta is a hoarder who only opens his shop to display his own collection, he does label it as “The Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World” and with its traditional Venetian charm and stacks upon stacks of a book worm’s dream, I would have to say I must agree with that statement.

Although I didn’t buy a book in this shop (my Italian knowledge is only in its infancy), I did purchase a few gorgeous bookmarks and postcards. I was reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert at the time which fitted in nicely with my time in Italy and the bookmarks were a great reminder of this when I got home.


I may be jealous that I didn't get to visit this bookshop myself (yet) but I'm very grateful to Jessica for sharing the experience with us. 

Jessica is the co-owner of smallbutmightywriters.com, a creative writing website for young writers. Most of her time is spent writing, typing and reading.

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